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Disappearing Books

(Picture from here.)

One of the Boskone 2022 panels I was on was the Disappearing Books panel. These are books that were popular or at least well-known at time of publication but have since become relatively unknown.

This is a fairly common panel topic I’ve been on a number of times.

There are a number of ways books disappear. A more successful work or author overshadows those of lesser stature. (I’m looking at you, 13th Floor vs The Matrix) Generational changes make works less palatable to the new audience. Random changes in the markets cause them to just disappear. The complete works of an author can essentially vanish.

That’s for good works. Bad works might persist or vanish for completely different reasons.

Older generations can be useful in bringing deserving past works forward. Or, they can berate the younger generation what they should be reading while that younger generation rolls their eyes.

This was brought home to me when I was trying to introduce my son to Heinlein via Red Planet. We were doing fine until Heinlein went out of his way to make the mother of the main character stupid. Ben saw through that immediately and has never read Heinlein again.

I have been tempted to edit Heinlein ever since. But that’s another story.

Anyway, as time goes forward, not all works stick with us. They fall behind with an ever-dwindling audience. I think some of these works should be reconsidered.

The good news is that some of these books have become more accessible in recent years via internet commerce and ebooks. Internet commerce have made used bookstores and their contents available to the general public. Amazon has helped here by creating a near infinite shelf space and enabling contact between consumer and storefront.

In addition, some of these disappearing books have been formatted into ebooks. I think there might still be issues of ownership—one of the main impediments of bringing these books to the reader—but some of these books are making a small comeback. I have included links where I found them. In addition, I put a “Discussed here” link where I’ve talked about these books before.

Another interesting sidenote is some of these books have been brought back into print in special editions. William F. Temple’s Shoot at the Moon were published a few years ago by the British Library Science Fiction Classics. SF Gateway brought out Colin Kapp’s The Dark Mind.

It’s possible the disappearing book list may, itself, disappear.

Here’s my list:

Works that have pretty much disappeared, given the above caveat

These are works that came and went. At least, whenever I talk about them, I get blank looks. They were good enough to get published but not popular enough to survive.

Works by well known authors that are themselves not as well known.

By this, I mean these authors are still known and there’s a population of people familiar with them, but these particular works theirs aren’t considered very often. Again, most of the time I get blank looks when I bring them up.

Works whose authors have fallen out of favor but are still worth reading.

The authors here have fallen out of favor often for good reasons. Their approach often clashes poorly with modern sensibility and the author doesn’t have enough of a following to be retained. Heinlein is a good example of a problematic author with enough momentum to be kept in print. These works, however, didn’t seem to matter so much. If they aren’t gone yet, they are disappearing slowly.

Honorable Mentions

These are works that are either read outside of SF and fantasy, been tossed out for problematic material, or subsumed out of existence by bad adaptations. I’m only going to bother with two.

Rudyard Kipling, All The Mowgli Stories: (Discussed here.) I bring in this one because while it is often cited and made into media, it has yet to be brought in properly. Kipling’s work has been censored for the taint of white oriented, British Empire, colonialist approach—all of which are valid criticisms that apply to most 19th century literature.

However, the Mowgli stories have been relentlessly mined with terrible results. The stories themselves bear almost no relationship to the media counterparts. Case in point, Kaa, the rock python, is one of Mowgli’s fast friends in the book and his dread enemy in the Disney films.

There is less of a relationship between the actual Mowgli stories and the movies or the public consciousness than there is, say, between Blade Runner than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

<*Ahem*> Speaking of Philip K. Dick’s, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: I have it put on this list because Androids has been almost completely subsumed under Blade Runner. The vast majority of people who have seen the film have not read the book. (Unfortunately, the case for most adaptations like Mowgli above.) Go read this book and forget Blade Runner. The two are only barely related.


1 thought on “Disappearing Books”

  1. Trent’s Last Case. Very popular in its day. For instance, Dorothy L. Sayers was enthusiastic.
    Finally laid hands on a copy and wondered what anyone saw in it.

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